Adding ‘Diversity’ to U.S. News Rankings Wouldn’t Accomplish Much

Elie Mystal, Above the Law, February 22, 2011

We all know how important the U.S. News Law School Rankings are to our system of legal education. The jobs of law school deans depend on the rankings, and they therefore significantly impact what law schools are willing or able to do. {snip}

Given the importance of U.S. News, I understand why diversity proponents want the publication to start counting “diversity” as a data point when compiling the annual rankings. {snip}

A story in the National Law Journal highlights a proposal from the The State Bar of California to U.S. News rankings guru Bob Morse. They want “diversity” to account for 15% of the overall U.S. News rank for schools.

The immediate question I have is “what the hell do you mean by ‘diversity’?” So now I have something in common with Bob Morse:

However, devising a credible measure of diversity is easier said than done, said U.S. News director of data and research Bob Morse. He has yet to see the council’s proposal, which is scheduled to be completed in the spring, but one of the problems that consistently crops up in diversity discussions is that there is no clear way to compare the diversity of a student body of a school in an ethically diverse state such as California to the diversity in a largely white state such as Kansas.

“What benchmark do you use?” Morse said. “To us, that’s not a little point. Should it be relative to the population of the state? How do you deal with private schools? Would the benchmark for UCLA and Michigan be the state they are in, or would it be national? It would be a very sophisticated analysis.”

{snip}

As many of you know, I believe that diversity is a positive educational good in its own right. I believe that all else being equal, most intelligent deans would want to have a diverse student body because a diverse student body leads to better education for all of the students.

The problem with U.S. News (if there is one) is that all else is not equal, because U.S. News places way too much importance on LSAT scores. The LSAT measures past achievement, not future success. It can’t measure future success because there’s no way to account for how a person will react if he or she is able to secure a new opportunity.

If you want to increase the diversity of law schools, then attacking the LSAT is a much more direct method than pumping up some kind of tortured “diversity score.”

{snip}

The council’s proposal recommends reducing the weight of the quality assessment to 20%, and reducing the weight of selectivity to 20%, in part by lowering the weight of the median LSAT score. Placement success would remain at 20% while faculty resources would increase to 20%. A new category of academic support for students would account for 5% of rankings.

The biggest change, however, would be the addition of a new diversity category that would evaluate what schools are doing to promote diversity on campus.

“Diversity assessments should not be limited to admissions and student body demographics,” the proposal reads. “Instead, diversity should also be measured by the support and resources provided by the institution to foster an inclusive culture and climate in which students from diverse backgrounds can excel.”

{snip}

{snip} I don’t want to pretend that a magazine can rank the “inclusiveness” of a law school campus. It can’t and any “results” will be compromised by the futility of the effort.

mystal

Elie Mystal.

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